A Travellerspoint blog

Two hospitals, worried parents but all is OK in the end

sunny 30 °C

(Continued from previous post)

Dad found Gee who told us there was a hospital in the village or one in Siliguri, 3 hours away near the airport. We choose the closer one first and get there quickly to find it was a long, dirty corridor smelling of urine and worse, with little dirty rooms off each side. We all cram into a tiny room with the doctor, 2 nurses and a bed covered in cardboard and the doctor checks Amy first. He is worried about her as stomach upsets can kill in India and prescribes her some brown pills and wants to admit her. She refuses (I can see why) and says she will stay in the hotel if necessary. Then it is my turn. The doctor only asks 2 questions; my name and my age, before checking my blood pressure and diagnosing a chest infection. I also get brown pills and sent to bed. We head back to the hotel and none of us are really happy with the diagnoses as the doctor didn't ask any questions about current medication or medical history. This is emphasised by the fact that the list of side effects of my malaria prevention medication is chest pains (which you should contact a doctor for) and a chest infection usually has coughing and sputum, neither of which I have. Mum and Dad are clearly still worried and we decide to go to Siliguri to a private hospital so pack our stuff. 3 hours later we reach the town and meet Uden at a nice, clean hospital. We are quickly seen by the medical practitioner who confirms we need to see the doctor and we are in the doctors office within 5 minutes. He confirms Amy's stomach problems could be serious and prescribes antibiotics and also wants to admit her but again she refuses. Then its my turn. A lot more questioning and I am sent for test; an ECG and an x-ray, but he doesn't think these will show any abnormalities and believes I have osophogitis caused by the malaria tablets. Within 10 minutes I am lying on a bed, being covered in lubricant by 2 nurses in preparation for my ECG, and 10 minutes after that I am topless getting my chest x-rayed. I think Uden had a lot to do with the speed we were seen to and for that I thank him greatly. I am ordered to return tomorrow for the results but Amy is free to go, as long as she starts getting better. And no more malaria tablets for me! Then it was off to the hotel Cindrella with too many bag carriers and waiters, all vying for your attention, for a nice meal and bed.

The next morning Amy is feeling a lot better and actually manages to eat a little something before swallowing her huge antibiotic pills. She stays behind while Mum, Dad and I head back to the hospital to get the all clear from the doctor. A prescription for antiacid later and an order to change my antimalarials we headed out to the train station so Dad could have a look and see if there were any steam engines that might be working. We saw some guys fixing axle boxes on a steam engine before going round the corner to see guys checking the wheels of the carriages. Back to the hotel to find Amy looking a lot better and we all went for lunch before a walk to the markets in the afternoon. We caught a couple of cycle rickshaws back but they didn't know where they were going and kept diving off down side roads. We kept them on track and then tipped them at the end. They seemed pretty happy. Then we had a meal together before bed.

Posted by SamAmy 07:40 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

A poorly Amy, elephant safari, then things get worse

sunny 27 °C

We woke early and had breakfast in the hotel before heading across town to the Domestic airport and catching a flight to Bagdogra in West Bengal. While we were waiting in the departure lounge we all had coffee, Amy having an iced coffee. We arrived safely and were met by Uden who took us to get our passes for the state of Sikkim, then to lunch in a normal Indian restaurant. Then it was goodbye to Uden and we set off with Gee to Jaldapara wildlife park along some horrendous roads with potholes across the whole width of the road and a couple of feet deep. We reached our hotel after crossing some really rickety bridges and checked in. Amy wasn't feeling well so she went to bed while Mum, Dad and I went for a walk to the edge of the park where we saw hundreds of fireflies flitting around, flashing on and off like a million shooting stars. We headed back for tea (still without Amy as she wasn't feeling any better) then went for a walk into the village where we heard music coming from the darkness. We followed the sound and stumbled across a tent with lots of people gathered inside watching 3 dancers and 4 musicians slowly circling a shrine to the Hindu gods. We were invited in and made really welcome and stood and watched the performance whilst chatting to the locals. It turned out it was a festival which lasted all night - poor dancers! Everyone was having a great time and it was a shame we had to leave but we have to be up early in the morning. We got back to find Amy decidedly unwell but not wanting to see a doctor. We decided sleep would be best for her and we would see how she was in the morning. We suspect it might be the ice from the iced coffee giving her some form of food poisoning.

We woke early (me successfully without waking Amy) and met Gee outside who drove us into the wildlife park to the point where we were to start an elephant safari from. We were a little early so went to watch the birds and deer in a clearing across a river before the elephants arrived. We climbed up onto the mounting block and onto the platform tied to its broad back, easily big enough for the three of us and Gee, with the rider sat straddling the elephants neck, feet behind its ears. We set off down a small jungle track with a really strange motion. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before and words cannot describe it, but it was quite pleasant once you got used to it. Not far into the jungle we came across a water hole and in the middle, wallowing in the mud, was a one horned rhino, Rhinocerous Unicornis. And just behind it was another, climbing up onto the bank. Amazing! We moved round for a closer look but he wasn't happy with us and went crashing off into the bushes. We carried on rolling through the bushes with the elephant stopping occasionally to pull out huge tufts of foliage with its trunk and move them to its mouth, or to release football sized lumps of digested foliage which, amazingly, still held their shape after dropping more than 6 feet! We came across another Rhino up to his horn in water but didn't get too close so as not to annoy him. We saw a couple of deer and a stork before a whistle came out of the trees. We swiftly turned off our narrow path into dense jungle and found out why our rider carried an 18 inch machete. A new path was quickly formed with his razor sharp blade and we performed a full 180 degree turn to head back to find a huge male Bison looking pretty pissed off. Our rider was obviously quite wary and rightly so; the Bison was at least 3/4 the size of our elephant and had no people on its back, with big horns that could do some considerable damage. A true monster, awesome to behold! We didn't hang around for long and made an astute retreat across a river to a grassy plain where mummy and baby Bison were herding. They were a lot less angry but we still didn't get too close. Back to the elephant mounting block and time to get down. We went round to stroke the elephants trunks and give tips to the drivers via the elephants trunks - very clever animals. Then it was back to our lodge for breakfast and a quick check on Amy. She said she was feeling better but still didn't fancy any food so we left her to sleep while we ate, then we went to a Tiger rescue sanctuary leaving Amy asleep. On the way there my chest started to hurt a little like in Agra but nowhere near as bad so I ignored it and had a good time tiger spotting in the long grass of the sanctuary. We headed back and had lunch (after checking on Amy who still felt the same) and then went for a lie down. Or at least that was the plan. When I got back to my room the pain suddenly increased dramatically and got even worse as I tried to lie down. Then I tried to stand and that was excruciating too. I was stuck sat on my bed unable to move and barely able to breathe. Luckily Amy was awake and went next door to get Mum and Dad, although on the way back she collapsed into their arms. Things were not looking good. (Continued on next post)

Posted by SamAmy 07:10 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Mum and Dad in Delhi

sunny 36 °C

We woke on the train, declined the cold omlette on offer for breakfast, and waited for our arrival into Anand Vihar, a station way out in the suburbs of Delhi. We got off the train and headed for the metro station but it was rammed full of people. The were huge queues to get tickets and then queues to go through the security barriers to the platform. We decided it would not be fun trying to negotiate that mass of humanity with our big bags so went to catch an auto rickshaw instead. We bargained hard for a semi-reasonable price and ended up sharing with an old lady and young boy. Halfway to town the boy projectile vomited out of the side of the rickshaw into the passing traffic. Glad I wasn't sat behind him. We arrived at the hotel (only the third time we have been here - it is starting to feel like home) and checked in. 20 minutes later and we get a call from reception. It is mum on the other end of the line! We run down for big hugs in the foyer; it was so good to see my parents after so long. They checked in and we helped them carry their bags to their room where we sat and chatted happily. It was soon time to go sight seeing so we went down to meet our guide Dinesh in the lobby. We set off in the car for India gate, the huge war memorial for the unknown soldiers in the Indian army. It was beautiful and a lot more serene than last time we were here. We actually got to see it this time! Mum and dad were a bit shocked when Indian tourists started crowding round and taking photos but soon got used to it and happily posed. Then down the long straight road from India gate to the presidential palace, flanked by the ministry of defence and the exchequer, with the parliament buildings off to one side. Very grand buildings and very Colonial-esque. Then it was time for lunch in the most expensive restaurant we have been to in India by far. Back in the car and on to the railway museum which was unfortunately shut on Mondays. We had a brief look over the fence but the security guards were keeping a watchful eye on us and there was no sneaking in. Instead we headed to Qutb Minar, the old centre of Delhi. It is a very tall tower built as a victory tower. The story goes that the Persian king attacked India 17 times and failed, but on the 18th time he succeeded and captured the king of Delhi. As a last request the Indian king was allowed to demonstrate his prowess at archery for the Persian king, but before he was allowed anywhere near a bow or arrow he had his eyes gouged out. Then he was taken 500m away from the Persian king, who shouted "go!". Unfortunately for the Persian king the Indian king had learnt to shoot by sound rather than sight and shot the Persian king dead. The Indian king was promptly set upon by the guards and also killed, leaving the general of the Persian army as ruler. He built the tower to show his might. Around the tower were a lot of ruins of markets and bazaars and Hindu temples that had been converted to Muslim mosques by the Persian invaders. After we had looked around Qutb Minar (we weren't allowed to climb it) we headed to the state emporium store to buy Mum (and Amy) a Shalwar Kameeze or 2, then back to the hotel before tea in a nice restaurant just down the road. Then we took mum and dad for a walk around Old Delhi at night. I think it shocked them as much as it did us when we first arrived. Just the mass of humanity living and working in such a small space, so crowded and lively. We came across a street completely covered by a tent with long tables completely covered with food for a wedding and lots of young children who all wanted to shake our hands before following us down the street asking the only questions their english would let them: what is your name and where do you come from? A new experience for Mum and Dad I think. Then back to the hotel where we said good night and went to bed.

Posted by SamAmy 06:45 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Varanasi and the River Ganges

sunny 40 °C

After a late arrival of the train into Varanasi we took an auto and asked him to take us to the 'golden temple archway' which he said OK to. We 'arrived' but I could see no archway so we asked him where it was, he said "you walk straight" and pointed ahead. We had a 'discussion' over the fact that he said he would take us there and he said that he was not allowed to go any further. In the end I was very annoyed so just paid him and we got out. 'Conveniently' a tout was on hand ready to help us find a hotel, little did he know that we knew exactly where we were going. We arrived at the hotel recommended by a friend and it was grim. I didn't want to stay there but I was too tired to walk to find anywhere else. I told Sam to choose but as I didn't want either answer I was still unhappy. By this point we were both a little annoyed and tired so we sat in out room for 5 minutes in silence before going for breakfast in a little cafe overflowing with locals. We walked South along the side of the River Ganges to see the ghats, they were much more impressive here than in Pushkar as the river was flowing and people were swimming and dipping, washing their clothes and their mouths out with the water. It was a colourful and bustling affair so we sheltered for a couple of minutes next to a dead rat as it was the only patch of shade that didn't smell too badly of excrement before turning North and walking along some more of the ghats with constant pestering from boat owners trying to tell us that now was the best time of day for a boat ride (no people bathing to see and blistering heat, I could think of nothing worse!). We politely declined all of the offers and continued walking. A man latched onto us about 500m before the burning ghat that we wanted to have a look at and 'guided' us down the straight path before handing us over to a 'guide who worked in the care home'-it sounded nice but I sensed a scam.

The air was thick with smoke and the ground beneath us black and ashy. There were four fires lit at spaced intervals and several men dressed in white hovering around them. A family was down at the river's edge with a dead body on a bamboo stretcher wrapped in red and gold cloth giving it a bath in the river and another similar stretcher being unwrapped of the cloth next to a pile of wood which had just been constructed. The 'guide' explained how the body is dealt with after death;

1) It is smeared with 7 natural ingredients for the 7 charkras of the body
2) Loaded onto a bamboo stretcher, covered with red and gold cloth, carried to the ghat
3) Given a final bath in the River Ganges
4) 240kg of wood is bought and the body placed into a pile of it
5) The oldest man of the family takes fire from an 'eternal flame' and lights the fire
6) The body is burnt for 3 hours until only the sternum is left
7) The remaining parts are thrown into the river Ganges
8) The oldest man of the family mast wear white clothes for 10 days

Holy animals like cows are not burnt as they are already pure so are tied to large stones and sunk in the middle of the river.

After his little chat the man told us that wood is expensive and that the poor families in his 'care home' cannot afford wood so would we like to give a little donation, just a couple of kilos, only 50 pounds! I don't think so. We gave him 100rs for his talk and left. We walked back towards our hotel and had stopped at a little sweet shop for me to try another of the little delicacies when a man arrived and 'helped me choose' which involved me getting one with a big dead ant on top :( then persuaded Sam that we wanted to go and look at silk scarves in his shop. We decided that as we are in Varanasi, silk scarves would be good presents! The man went through the rigmarole of getting out over 50 different colours before I narrowed it down to my 3 favourite colours which we bought for 450rs. After declining other items such as giant table cloths we took our scarves to the hotel and decided where to go for dinner. We were on our way to a pizza place but in the little alleyway just outside our hotel a stall had opened up and it was surrounded by a huge crowd of people ordering food which looked really tasty so we ditched the pizza idea, put in our order and waited! It was indeed very good and with bottomless chickpea curry we were both full and dozy so went to sit at the Dasaswamedh ghat to await the 7pm fire and dance show. No sooner had we sat down than Sam was joined by 2 Indian guys which quickly turned into 5, each wanting to shake hands and introduce themselves. Just before the performance started, a cow stole a bag of flour from a beggar whilst he had gone to get some water. The cow proceeded to munch through the plastic bag, creating a plume of flour right in front of us. It took the man a while to realise where his flour had gone but when he did he looked so unhappy. Cows can't be holy to everyone. I took some money down to him to buy more flour and he hid the money in his shirt and we watched the show which had just begun. It consisted of dancing, waving incense around and swirling metal containers with fire in around- it was more impressive than it sounds as there were 6 or 7 men all doing it at the same time! We were both tired after a short night's sleep on the train so as soon a the show finished we went to bed.

We were up and dressed by 5.15 to go for a 'just after sunrise ' boat trip. We got to the frondt door of our hotel and it was locked so we woke a guy up and he let us out. A man found us and offered 200 each for a private boat and we got him down to 150 for a little wooden rowing boat for just the two of us (we saw up to 10 people in other boats of the same size!) The little old man started rowing us South along the ghats, he made it seem really easy. The sun had just risen and was a bright red sphere behind us as we sat back and watched the hundreds of brilliantly brightly coloured Indians scurrying down to the waters edge and immersing themselves in the holy water. It was peaceful with only the hum of the pilgrims chatting and chanting on the bank. The rowing man let Sam and I have a go at rowing, neither of us was as good as him so we gave him his job back! He suggested that we go for a swim, but as we'd seen dead peoples body parts being throw in further upstream we declined. He said that the water was clean but I begged to differ, then he suggested that he take us to the far bank as it is "cleaner over that side of the river", how that works I don't know but I still don't want to go swimming! Once our hour was up the man said he had no change to give us so I went to find some whilst Sam waited. Once the man was paid we went back to check out of our room as it's 24 hour checkout which means you check out at the same time as you checked in- 8am then! We went on a hunt for some more silk scarves for presents which involved following a man for about 30 minutes to his brothers shop, then when it was too expensive he said "OK, cheaper shop"- so it probably wasn't his brothers shop! We went for lunch in the pizza place at the very Southern most ghat so we look a cycle-rickshaw and he went like the clappers-they must feed them speed here! It was the most amazing pizza and cold coffee mmm, and to top it off we could relax in the shade with the air cooler, watching the water buffaloes wallowing in the Ganges. We took an auto back to our hotel after taking closer look at the buffaloes and the driver let Sam have a go at 'driving', well holding the controls whilst he drove! We picked up our bags and were off to the train station, on the move again- this time back to Delhi to meet Sam's parents!

Posted by SamAmy 06:35 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Fatephur Sikri for the Jama Masid and Palaces

all seasons in one day 40 °C

The alarm woke us early and we left our bags in 'left luggage'-the open computer room and took an auto-rickshaw to the Idgah Bus Station for a bus to Fatehpur Sikri, 40km from Agra. It is a walled city with a Jama Masid and palaces which were built by Akhbar (the architect of the Taj Mahal) as a new city after it was prophecised here that his son-less wife would have a son.

The bus was already waiting in the station and the tout outside it said "half an hour". Ok so we went to find some breakfast. Sam had some fried dough with curry and I got a packet of biscuits as I really wasn't hungry. We sat and waited on the bus and read the newspaper and an hour later we were on the way. It only took an hour to get there and as soon as the bus stopped a 'guide' was stood outside the door offering us "free entrance" to the palaces which should be 260Rs each. We kindly declined his offer the first time but by the 4th and 5th refusals I was somewhat less kind simply saying "No" and walking away. A stream of people tried to lead us to various places claiming that it was the Jama Masid of the palace, after getting rid of one man in the market and some
kids after they tried to lead us up a back alley away from the Jama Masid, we followed a path that we could see led to the main entrance of something- a giant gate. We left our shoes with the shoe wallah despite some children's pleas to go with them as we would have to pay for our shoes here. The thought of a fine or imprisonment for the sake of a 260Rs ticket didn't seen like a worthwhile gamble I'm afraid. Inside the beautiful gateway was a large courtyard with a white marble tomb in front of us, some little tombs to the right of it and a red sandstone mausoleum in the back centre. A man had attached himself to Sam within seconds of stopping to admire the buildings claiming that he worked for the complex and would take us around for free. I said that I wasn't interested and walked off expecting Sam to follow me but he didn't so I had a look around by myself and Sam found out a few interesting facts interspersed with lots of stops at stalls to buy things. At one stall the man tried to sell a 'holy cloth' for rs1000 which he didn't have much luck selling after Sam asked if that is the same price that the locals pay, when the man said "yes" Sam pointed out that the average weekly wage of 90% of Indians was 1000Rs so that was unlikely. I found Sam just as the man put the 'holy cloth' down, I would have loved to see his face when Sam told him the facts! He then took us to 'his stall' and tried to sell us a soapstone elephant (which we didn't want so no matter what his "good price" was we weren't going to buy it!). Once he was sure that we weren't going to buy anything he then asked Sam for money for taking him around but Sam rightfully didn't give him any as he had said he would do it for free! Sufficed to say he wasn't happy an left in a huff. We then had a peaceful look around by ourselves and inside the marble mausoleum was a room with a canopy over a tomb decorated with the most exquisite mother of pearl. It was dazzling. We stood to the side as families came in with holy cloths, held them over
the tomb whilst the priest said a prayer then laid it on the tomb and left. I wonder if the 'holy men' sell the cloths back to the sellers as they surely have no use for them! We collected our shoes from outside and paid the wallah for dropping some of his lunch onto my shoe before making the short journey across to the palace. Some kids tried to sell us postcards but when we said no then asked if they could have our used tickets when we come out, we said OK as we thought it was a strange but innocent request-obviously not..

We bought tickets from the lovely man who was in a really good mood and very jovial then it was less than 2 seconds before a guide made his attack-they move with lightning speed and the stealth of a tiger! We had decided that we did want a guide so checked his English before agreeing to a one hour tour for 125Rs. He was really knowledgeable about the place, showing us the summer and winter horse stables, the different architecture on the palaces of Akbar's three wives, one Hindu, one Muslim and one Christian and also pointing out good photo spots as it was too hot to think for ourselves! My favourite bits that I can remember from the blistering heat were the game that Akbar played which was an ancient form of Ludo with real girls and Akbar's palace which he made in a few levels, each story made only 5'0" high as this was his height and when other kings came to visit him it meant that they had to bow their heads to him. We were baked by the time our hour was up and at the end the guide asked if he could keep our tickets for giving to children to take to school for the pictures (my arse they did) but Sam gave them anyway. The kid outside that had asked for them wasn't happy when we walked back past empty handed and said that we were bad people, so I returned the comment that he was a bad boy. After a few minutes when he realised that we weren't joking and didn't have them he faded into the distance as we walked down a little dirt track behind the palace to look at the tomb of Akbar's favourite execution elephant. If a criminal was put before the elephant, he would sniff him and if he thought him guilty he would crush him. After this little excursion we were hungry so had lunch in a nice little restaurant where Sam had navaratna curry (nine vegetables). We found the bus back to Agra sat where we had left it this morning and it had it's engine running so we thought that our luck was in, 15 minutes of diesel burning later we set off back to Agra. The swarm of auto touts wasn't as severe on our arrival and we found one who asked a reasonable amount so we took it. A taxi driver appeared as we had asked earlier if we can get a bus to Tundla Junction for our train and he offered to pick us up from our hotel at 6 and take us there. Fine. We wrote some blog in the hotel through a giant thunderstorm in which the sky turned dark yellow before the rain stopped and we took a cycle-rickshaw to the rooftop restaurant near the Taj Mahal for a last look before our train tonight. A large group of Indian people were just heading up to the rooftop as we arrived so we ordered 2 cups of chai and made our way up. The Taj looked even more spectacular today that the day before yesterday which we didn't think was possible. The sky was yellowy grey and the milky yellow colour of the Taj had been brought out by the rain which had also washed the dust off! It shone in the hazy light. We stood and listened to the Muslim call to prayer from the mosque at the West gate, drank chai and marveled at the Taj Mahal. We are really here.

The taxi never came to take us to Tundla Junction for the train so we got a an auto then a bus. It all went smoothly and we were over an hour early for the train. We had dinner at the station, were pestered by a persistent beggar and Sam wound up a monkey by hissing at it so it dropped its chapati and got ready to pounce, only when a man from the fruit stall came over with his monkey and beggar beating stick did it run away. The train arrived on time and we settled down for a short night on the train.

Posted by SamAmy 04:55 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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